Author: John Piper
If there is a God, as I believe there is, and if he rules the world in his sovereignty, as the Bible says he does, and if he will bring human history to a close according to his plan and appoint to every person his eternal destiny, as Jesus taught that he will, then two of the most important questions for any human being to answer are these:
- What is God’s goal in creating and governing the world?
- How can I bring my life into alignment with that goal?
For if we don’t know his goal and our lives are not in alignment with it, then we will find ourselves at cross-purposes with God and excluded from his kingdom in the age to come. It is a fearful thing to be at cross-purposes with your maker! But on the other hand, nothing inspires courage and endurance and pluck for daily living like knowing the purpose of God and feeling yourself wholeheartedly in harmony with it. Nothing has nourished the strength of my Christian faith like knowing God’s ultimate goal for creation and discovering how to bring my heart and my behavior into alignment with that goal.
God’s Goal in Creating Israel
So this Sunday and next Sunday I want to talk about these two questions. First, What is God’s goal in creating and governing the world, especially in creating and overruling humanity? Then next Sunday, How do we bring our lives into harmony with that goal?
The text I have chosen to focus on is Isaiah 43:1–7. Let’s read it in context:
But now, thus says the Lord, your creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed even whom I have made.” (NASB)
The main point of the passage is to encourage God’s people not to fear what man or nature can do to them. This is the command repeated in verse 1 and verse 5. After each of these commands not to fear God gives his reasons why his people should not fear. In verses 1–4 God argues like this: You should not fear because what I did for you in the past proves my love to you and my care for you. “I redeemed you (from Egyptian bondage), I called you by name, you are mine!” (verse 1). So you can count on me to help you when deep waters and raging fire threaten to destroy you (verse 2). “I am the Lord your God, your Savior, you are precious to me.” Look, have I not subjugated other peoples in order to save you (verses 3–4)? So don’t be afraid of the trouble coming upon you.
That is the first argument why God’s people should not fear. Then verse 5 repeats the command, “Don’t fear,” and gives a new argument in verses 5–7:
I am with you! The judgment of being dispersed into captivity away from your land — this is not my final word. I will gather you again. For you are called by my name, I created you for my glory.
What is it that at rock bottom moves God to help his people? Verse 4 says, “You are precious in my eyes . . . I love you.” Is that the answer? In a sense, yes. When John said, “God is love,” he no doubt meant that no matter how deep we probe into the motives of God, we will never arrive at a layer which is not love.
“No matter how deep we probe into the motives of God, we will never arrive at a layer which is not love.”
But this text lures me down, down, down into the heart of God. It raises a question. In order for Israel (God’s chosen people of that era) to be precious in God’s sight, they had to exist. I have three sons and they are precious to me and I love them. But they were not precious to me and I did not love them in 1970; they did not yet exist, they had not been planned nor conceived. So the deeper question is, Why was Israel even conceived or created? Why did God bring into existence a people whom he could regard as precious? What was his motive before there was even a people to love?
Verse 7 gives the answer: God created Israel for his glory. The existence of Israel was planned and conceived and achieved because God wanted to get glory for his name through her. Before we ask just what it is for God to seek his own glory in this way, let’s see if this goal of God has motivated more than just the election of the nation Israel.
God’s Goal from the Beginning
In one sense, we can speak of the exodus out of Egypt as the birth of Israel as a nation. At this point, God gave her the law to regulate her life as a nation, and this law and covenant have been the backbone of the nation ever since. But if the exodus was the birth of Israel, then the election and call of Abraham back in Genesis 12 must have been the conception of the nation of Israel, and the period of the patriarchs and slavery in Egypt would then have been the gestation period. So when it says God created Israel for his glory, I take it to mean that the purpose of God to be glorified in Israel was the purpose which motivated God at every step: conception, gestation, and birth.
If this is true, then we are put onto an interesting link between the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and the call of Abram in Genesis 12, which will, I think, show us that God’s goal of glorifying himself did not originate at the creation of Israel, but that this is what he was up to from the beginning.
Look at Genesis 11. The key phrase to show what caused God to become angry with these tower builders and disperse them comes in verse 4:
They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.”
Ever since Adam and Eve had chosen to eat of the forbidden tree in order to be like God, independent of him and wise in their own right, the human race has been enslaved to a rebellious heart that hates to rely on God but loves to make a name for itself. The tower of Babel was a manifestation of that rebellion. They wanted to make a name for themselves and reach even to heaven, but God frustrated their designs.
But instead of abandoning the human race, God starts a new thing in chapter 12 of Genesis. He chooses one man, Abram, and makes him a promise in Genesis 12:1–3. Listen to what God says and contrast it with what the tower builders said:
Now the Lord said to Abram: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great.”
The people working on the tower of Babel said, “Let us make a name for ourselves!”. God chooses the father of the Jewish nation and says, “I will make your name great.”
Now, what does this show about the goal of God in the world? I think Moses is telling us, as he writes this primal history, that when ancient man refused to align himself with the goal of God, God set about a very different way of achieving that same goal. Man was made to rely on God and give him glory. Instead, man chose to rely on himself and seek his own glory — to make a name for himself. So God elected one small person and promised to achieve his purpose through that man and his descendants. He would make Abram’s name great, so that he, and not man, would get the glory.
In other words, the goal of God in creating Israel, namely, for his glory, is not a goal that took effect only at that point in history. It is the goal that guided his creation and governance of man from the start. Man was created from the beginning in God’s image that he might image forth God’s glory. He was to multiply and fill the earth so that the knowledge of the glory of God would cover the sea. And ever since the fall of man into sin, people have refused to align themselves with this divine goal. But all God’s acts have been aimed at seeing it through.
“Man was created from the beginning in God’s image that he might image forth God’s glory.”
So it is not just Israel but we whom God created for his glory! This is why the New Testament again and again calls us to do all to the glory of God.
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
This is not an admonition to do God a favor. It is a command to align our lives with his eternal goal. He created us for his glory. God’s great aim in creating and governing the world is that he be glorified. “I created you for my glory. I formed you, I made you.”
Created for God’s Glory
Now, what then does it mean to say that God created us for his glory? Glory is a very hard thing to define. It is like the word “Beauty.” We all can use it and communicate with it but to try to reduce it to words is very frustrating. It is easier to point to examples. A sunset seen from the top of the IDS Tower — that’s glory. Or the IDS Tower itself almost invisible, like crystal against a grey-blue sky — that’s glory. A perfect performance on the balance beam by Nadia Comaneci — that’s glory. A perfectly executed thirty-foot jump shot with one second to go — that’s glory, too.
The glory of God is the beauty and excellence of his manifold perfections. It is an attempt to put into words what God is like in his magnificence and purity. It refers to his infinite and overflowing fullness of all that is good. The term might focus on his different attributes from time to time — like his power and wisdom and mercy and justice — because each one is indeed awesome and beautiful in its magnitude and quality. But in general, God’s glory is the perfect harmony of all his attributes into one infinitely beautiful and personal being.
“God’s glory is the perfect harmony of all his attributes.”
Now when God says that he created us for his glory, it cannot mean that he created us so that he would become more glorious, that his beauty and perfection would be somehow increased by us. It is unthinkable that God should become more perfectly God by making something that is not God. It is a staggering but necessary thought that God has always existed, that he never came into being, and that everything which exists which is not God is from his fullness and can never add anything to him which did not come from him. That is what it means to be God; and it should humble us, Oh, how it should humble us, when we ponder his reality!
Like A Telescope, Not A Microscope
But this means that when God says he made us for his glory, he does not mean he made us so that he could become more glorious in himself. Instead what Isaiah 43:7 means is that he created us to display his glory, that is, that his glory might be known and praised. This is the goal of God with which we must be aligned in our hearts and actions if we hope to escape his wrath at the judgment.
This becomes clearer as we page through Isaiah:
I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:20–21)
Sing, O heavens for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob and will be glorified in Israel(Isaiah 44:23).
In response to her redemption, Israel will join the skies and valleys and mountains and forests in singing praise to the Lord. The Lord’s glory will be known and praised and displayed to the nations.
But Isaiah 48:9–11 makes even clearer what it means for God to seek his own glory in creating and redeeming his people:
For My name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of My praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you but not like silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For My own sake, for My own sake I do it,
for how should My name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
What an amazing text this is! How wonderfully un-modern and anti-20th-century this text is! How ugly and repulsive it must appear to the god of this age, the prince of the power of the air (see Ephesians 2:2). But how sweet, how clean and high and bright and full of allurement to those who really love God above all else.
Even though this text deals with God’s Old Testament people Israel, we have seen that his motives do not change from era to era and so we can apply at least that aspect of this text to the people of God in our day — those who follow Christ as Savior and Lord. Two things cry out to be stressed in our day. First, our salvation is for God’s sake.
For My name’s sake I withhold my anger. For the sake of My praise I restrain it for you.
To be sure, God will save his people, he will bless us infinitely! But it is for hisname’s sake, for his praise, for his glory that he does it. “For My own sake, for My own sake I do it, for how should My name be profaned.”
God Is No Mere Supporting Actor
Where this perspective is lost, and the magnifying of God’s glory is no longer seen as the great aim of redemption, pitiful substitutes arise — man centered philosophies that exalt human value in a way that distorts the work of redemption and belittles the primacy of God. And surely I don’t have to tell you in detail that this perspective of God-centeredness has been lost in our day, even in the churches. Man is the star in our contemporary drama and his comfort, his prosperity, and his health are the great goals. Of course God is there on the stage, but only as a kind of co-star or supporting actor to round out the picture for religious and cultural expectations.
What a world apart is Isaiah 48:9–11, and even more so Ezekiel 36:21–32. Parts of this text are very familiar promises of the New Covenant, but oh, how we need to read what comes before and after these promises, lest we lose the biblical perspective of our salvation.
“Our salvation is for God’s sake. He created us to display his glory.”
But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. Therefore, say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness, and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, that you may not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. I am not doing this for your sake,” declares the Lord God, “Let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!” (NASB)
That’s the first thing that needs to be stressed from Isaiah 48:9–11: our salvation is for God’s sake. He created us for his glory!
Crossing God Means We Need God’s Cross
The second thing that needs to be stressed is this: God will not allow his name to be profaned indefinitely. Though he is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, he will not tolerate forever those who do not give him glory, but instead regard something else as more glorious, more worthy of allegiance. “My glory I will not give to another.” That’s why I said at the beginning, it is a fearful thing to be at cross-purposes with your maker. There is a judgment day and the issue for every one of us will be: Have we been with God in his great goal to glorify himself or has his glory been a matter of indifference to us or even animosity?
We are left with two great questions, which I am to answer next Sunday, if God wills:
How do we bring our lives into alignment with God’s goal to glorify himself? What sorts of things must we think and feel and do for God to get glory from us? Is it another weight to make us sigh or is it wings to let us fly?
Why is it right for God to seek his own glory when he tells us in his Word we should not seek our own glory? How can it be loving and not selfish for God to create us for his glory?
But even before next week when I try to answer these two questions all of us here need to align ourselves more fully with God’s goal. And my assumption is that some are here who up until this very point in your life have lived it at cross purposes with God. I urge you, do not wait until next Sunday to be reconciled to God. Repent and give your life to God for his purposes now. Any help that I can be in that decision, let me know.